SPOILERS Rincewind Character Discussion

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Tonyblack

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#1
For the first of these discussions about Discworld Characters, I thought we’d start with, perhaps the first regular Disc character that we come to know: Rincewind the Wizzard.



This discussion is very likely to contain many SPOILERS for the whole series, not just the Rincewind books. So if you haven’t read all the books, you might want to avoid this topic – it’s up to you, but YOU WERE WARNED.









We first meet Rincewind, the deadbeat wizard, in The Colour of Magic. We learn that his main skill (apart from being a polyglot) is running away from danger. And this is a good thing as he gets more than his fair share of danger. He turns up in several of the other books, where he saves the Disc through pure luck or unexpected courage.





So what do you think of the character? Does he change/develop during the books and does he have any sort of unwritten back story?
 

=Tamar

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Rincewind has some backstory, which was addressed briefly in Unseen Academicals. _We_ finally got a possible explanation for something that puzzled Ridcully, though I'm not sure _Ridcully_ got it. Nutt says he was "born" when Pastor Oats took him away from the village. Rincewind once said that his mother ran away before he was born.
 

Tonyblack

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#3
I took that to mean that Nutt began to live when Pastor Oats rescued him. Rincewind is another thing altogether. I thought the origin of Rincewind's birth was some sort of throw away line - a sort of joke. This may have been the case, but I wonder how much Terry thought about this after the fact. It may sound like a silly "theory", but I was wondering if the time travelling Esk might have been his mother. She states that she has a son and that is about all we know. The fluid nature of Esk's time travelling might have had something to do with Rincewind's unusual Life Timer, if that was the case. Just throwing that one into the discussion. Who knows whether Terry might have expanded on that.
 

Molokov

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#4
If Rincewind has much character development, it's mostly in his awareness that he's a pawn of the Gods, and of narrative causality. In books such as Interesting Times, The Last Continent and The Last Hero, although he does *try* to run away from events, he knows that narrative causality will basically have him be involved (in a "hero"-type role) so he may as well just accept it, even if he does with his normal cringing and cynical viewpoint.

So although, at his core, he never loses his cowardice or turn of speed, he does realise that sometimes he won't ever be able to escape being part of the story, so he might as well get on and succumb to the will of fate (or Fate, or The Lady, more likely) and just do the heroic thing (complaining about it the whole time).

After he finally gets to 'retire', we see that he manages to get a mostly peaceful life until Ridcully throws him into all the Roundworld project dangers in The Science of Discworld books - but even there, he's finally at the periphery and not the centre of the story.
 

RathDarkblade

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#5
At the end of The Light Fantastic, Rincewind mentions that he would enroll in UU again. "They say when it's Summa Cum Laude, then the living is easy." ;)

So I wonder whether he ever applied, and if not, why not? Now that The Spell was out of his brain, he could have been a decent wizard. (But then, we'd be deprived of a "hero" in the making.)

Now that I think about it, he probably did apply to UU but never passed any exams, as Ridcully points out towards the beginning of "Interesting Times". I wonder why that is. Without The Spell to hinder him, what held him back?

Personally, I like and sympathise with Rincewind. He knows he's not a hero in the mould of Cohen and so on, but he never stops trying, in spite of his complete lack of hero material. It's just too bad that he keeps meeting people who try to stick bits of metal in him, etc. ;)
 

Penfold

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#6
I think it was the character and ineptitude of Rincewind when it came to using magic that might have been one of the reasons I got hooked on DW (CoM & LF). At that time, it seemed all the really dangerous situations facing the hero could be solved by a mage stepping forward and casting a previously unheard of spell (Harry Potter or Elric of Melnibone, for example). I was getting a bit tired of this old trope, to be honest, so it was quite refreshing to come across with the half brick inna sock method of dealing with a protagonist. :)
 

Tonyblack

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#7
Going to the point of him always running away, but ultimately having to face up to facts. It's a sort of resignation that the fate (or just Fate) means that he is the person on the spot that has to step up. He's a reluctant hero, who probably would never describe anything he did as heroic.

I don't think his character develops much during the series. It's a good thing that Terry made him such a memorable character in the first place.
 
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#8
I'll be the contrarian here, but for me RIncewind is a one-joke character and the only one of Pterry's main set of core "series" protagonists who dones't change into something deeper over the course of his books.

I found the first two books (which I read long after I had read later DW books) to be strained parodies that were obviously trying to be the fantasy equivalent of Doug Adam's Hitchhiker's series (even with the footnotes serving the same role as the Galactic Encycloedia entries). Rincewind really is, at best, a straightman for all the other comic characters around him. I'm glad the Pterry essentially gave up on him and focused his energy on developing the much better and well-rounded protagonists of his other series books (Vimes, the witches, Moist, Susan, Tiffany).
 
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=Tamar

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Here goes...
I don't see Rincewind as the usual Hero. His position is the Mentor. The mentor is usually old, but Rincewind is young, because comedy requires a change in the combination of elements. However, young as he is - college dropout - Rincewind has traveled a lot, and has learned just enough of many languages to get by almost anywhere. His strong point is communication - he is a teacher. He begins with the commonplace Everyman position, rejecting heroism - the narrator's description of a standard Hero is rather disparaging. Enter Twoflower, whose appreciation of the moment is Zen-like: even when falling off the planet or looking out from a troll's mouth, he is able to appreciate the view.
Rincewind has some of the external attributes of a traditional wandering Buddhist monk. He lives day to day, sleeping where he can, wearing his one faded red robe and sandals.

His development is slower than most main characters. In his second appearance, in Mort, he is "accidentally" the one who foils Albert's Ridcully-like plan and saves UU from forced exercise. I put accidentally in quotes because although Rincewind wasn't consciously doing it, his happenstance behavior turned out to be Right Action, done without use of intellect - the sort of thing that the zen practitioner is supposed to develop.

In Sourcery, Rincewind actually takes on a heroic endeavour because his true self is threatened - his existence as a wizard. Yet when it turns out that the supposed villain is a child under the direct control of his vengeance-driven father, Rincewind perceives the problem correctly and acts to save the child, not quite sacrificing himself - he continues to run.

When Eric calls him into the Discworld again, Rincewind again is in the position of Mentor. In the course of about a week, he turns a self-centered spoiled teenager around, away from the typical Faustian desires and toward the ability to feel some compassion for Ulysses.

After a well-deserved rest, he's called to Mentor again, this time in the Agatean Empire. There is another Mentor present, Teach, who tried to give up teaching but can't help it. Teach teaches the old men, Rincewind teaches the young.

Flung to the continent of XXXX, Rincewind finally completes his journey of self-discovery, when Skippy explains it all and he realizes he is going to be the Hero no matter what he does. Once he has accepted that as his role, he gets to retire until The Last Hero and the Science of Discworld books. In The Last Hero, Rincewind is among those who storm Heaven, but when offered that traditional trap, a gift of the gods, he only asks for a childhood wrong to be redressed. In the Science of Discworld books, he is again mentoring, but this time he's in our world, teaching the wizards.
Rincewind, like Teach, just can't give up teaching.

There's a meta level, too, but that's for a different post.
 

Tonyblack

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#10
Nice summary, =Tamar! Apart from the Science of Discworld and The Last Hero, Rincewind is pretty much kicked to the sidelines. He's there, but only as an arbitrary character. I think Pratchett almost decided that he'd pushed the character arc as far as he could and gave him a sort of retirement. Ridcully keeps him around because he's a sort of canary in the mine when it comes to trouble.
 

RathDarkblade

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Hmm ... very interesting, =Tamar! I never considered Rincewind from the angle of being the Teacher figure. In TCOM and TLF, I always considered him as a kind of Tour Guide to the Discworld, with Twoflower being the Innocent Abroad. Afterwards, I simply considered Rincewind to be the Straight Man Hero (i.e. the character who behaves heroically, in spite of being the only one who perceives the danger of doing so). Thank you for showing me there was more to him than that. :)

Penfold also makes a good point that we haven't considered. (Thanks, Penners! :)) Up until TCOM, fantasy characters tended to come up against insoluble problems. Then a powerful wizard turned up, cast a spell and - boom! - problem solved.* So it must have been refreshing to meet a wizard who not only couldn't solve problems by clicking his fingers, but was inept at magic altogether.

________________________________________________
* Of course, Tolkien's wizards were never as powerful as that - unless, of course, they needed to be (e.g. Gandalf's battle with the Balrog).

Elminster, Ed Greenwood's iconic wizard, takes a different route - i.e. he starts out as a student, faces dangers to overcome, etc.

The overarching plot for the Harry Potter character is very similar. The "orphan raised in ignorance of his identity" trope is also very familiar - being a very old trope lends it strength through familiarity.
 

Tonyblack

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#12
I used to think that Rincewind was a sort of Deus ex machina created by Terry to allow us to visit parts of the Disc that would take a lot more exposition to get to these places - as Rath comments "a tour guide". I still think that was his original purpose, along with the Luggage to get Rincewind out of (and maybe into) a lot of scrapes. I know that when Rincewind didn't appear in books a few times, people would badger Terry about when they would see him again (as they did with Eskarina Smith). So he came back to a sort of settled life, in the University, but with a much diminished role. I believe Unseen Academicals was his last book and that was very much as a supporting role.
 
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#13
I could be wrong, but didn't he have a brief appearance in Raising Steam when the wizards are taking a train ride--something about him running away from the engine?
 

Tonyblack

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#14
I could be wrong, but didn't he have a brief appearance in Raising Steam when the wizards are taking a train ride--something about him running away from the engine?
I don't recall that, but you could be right.
 

Quatermass

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I'll be the contrarian here, but for me RIncewind is a one-joke character and the only one of Pterry's main set of core "series" protagonists who dones't change into something deeper over the course of his books.

I found the first two books (which I read long after I had read later DW books) to be strained parodies that were obviously trying to be the fantasy equivalent of Doug Adam's Hitchhiker's series (even with the footnotes serving the same role as the Galactic Encycloedia entries). Rincewind really is, at best, a straightman for all the other comic characters around him. I'm glad the Pterry essentially gave up on him and focused his energy on developing the much better and well-rounded protagonists of his other series books (Vimes, the witches, Moist, Susan, Tiffany).
I agree with your first point, raisindot. While he was an enjoyable character, Rincewind wasn't a particularly deep one, and it's probably for the best that he faded into the background. I do disagree with your assessment about the first couple of books being strained parodies, though they do strain a little. It's more that Terry Pratchett was trying to find his way.

There was a somewhat Rincewind-like character in Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw's debut novel Mogworld. Jim the zombie was a wizard, and a relatively inept or at least novice one, in life who dies due to getting caught in a battle. He gets revived by a necromancer, and while not as cowardly as Rincewind, he's about as cynical and has many cowardly tendencies. He only goes along with things because he really, really wants to find a way of dying for good, even though he seems conflicted about that as well. And, as the blurb on the back pretty much spoils, he's actually an NPC in an MMORPG who, along with everyone else in his world, have become self-aware.
 

Tonyblack

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#16
This is from the New Discworld Companion and I probably should have posted it earlier.
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs said:
Rincewind. A wizard. At least, generally referred to as a wizard. Strange to tell, it is also the name of the Archchancellor of BUGARUP UNIVERSITY (Bill Rincewind). Our Rincewind is tall, thin and scrawny, with a raggedy beard that looks like the kind

of beard worn by people who aren’t cut out by Nature to be beard-wearers. He is a non-smoker (unusual in a wizard). He is a survivor. There are scars all over him. Mostly on his back. He traditionally wears a dark red, hooded, frayed plush robe on which a few mystic sigils are embroidered in tarnished sequins. The robe has been made darker by constant wear and irregular washings. Under his robe he wears britches and sandals. Around his neck is a chain bearing the bronze octagon which marks him as an alumnus of Unseen University (quite wrongly, it must be pointed out, since he has never passed any kind of magical exam). Indeed, he never scored more than 2 per cent in his exams (and that was for spelling his name almost right). On his head is a battered pointy hat with a floppy brim, which has the word ‘WIZZARD’ embroidered on it in big, silver letters by someone whose needlework is even

worse than their spelling. There’s a star on top. It has lost most of its sequins. Unseen University alumnus medallion He was born under the sign of the Small Boring Group of Faint Stars – a sign associated with chess board makers, sellers of onions, manufacturers of plaster images of small religious significance and people allergic to pewter. His mother ran away before he was born, and the young Rincewind grew up in Morpork. He does have an innate gift for languages, which enables him to shout ‘Don’t kill me!’ and be understood in a hundred different countries. He is also good at practical geography, which means that he always knows exactly

where it is he is running away from. He has a razor-sharp instinct for survival equalled only by an uncanny ability to end up in situations where every bit of it is required. Rincewind’s room number as a student at UU was 7a (wizards avoid the number eight). Later, during his spell as Deputy Librarian (an ape’s Number Two, as the Dean nastily remarked), he lived in a room close to the LIBRARY used mainly to store old furniture. It contained a large wardrobe (on top of which the LUGGAGE hibernated) and a banana crate which he used as a dressing table. It also housed a wicker chair with no bottom and three legs and a mattress so full of life that it occasionally moved sluggishly around the floor, bumping into things. The rest of the room was a litter of objects dragged from the street – old crates, bits of planking, sacks, etc. There are eight levels of wizardry on the Disc; after all these years, Rincewind has failed to even achieve level one. It was in fact the opinion of some of his tutors that he was incapable of even achieving level zero, which most normal people are born at. It has been contended that when Rincewind dies the average occult ability of the human race will actually go up a fraction. ‘To call his understanding of magical theory “abysmal” is to leave no suitable word to describe his grasp of its practice,’ said one of his tutors. He is also not very good at precognition: he can scarcely see into the present. Some of this is unfair. For a bet, the young Rincewind dared to open the pages of the last remaining copy of the CREATOR’S own grimoire, the OCTAVO. A spell leapt out of the page and instantly burrowed deeply into his mind, whence even the combined talents of the Faculty of Medicine were unable to coax it. No one knew which spell it was, except that it was one of the Eight Great Spells that were

intricately interwoven with the very fabric of time and space itself. Since then, no other spell dared stay in the same head. For that prank, he was expelled from UU. Subsequently, he has been an unwilling travel guide, has been through Hell, has visited most of the countries of the Disc, has travelled extensively in time as well as in space, has been present at the creation of the Discworld where he caused the origin of life by dropping an egg-and-cress sandwich into the sea, has defeated the greatest magic-user on the Disc while armed with nothing more than a half-brick in a sock,13 aided the rebels in the Counterweight Continent, visited Xxxx (where he was called Rinso) and flown to the Moon. He is believed to have been one of only nine people to have visited the country of DEATH while mortal. But what Rincewind has always sought is some secure, safe position somewhere, and he seemed to get this when he was appointed as Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography (even though the previous incumbent was probably eaten by a giant lizard) The post has no salary and total insecurity of tenure, but he does get his laundry done for free, a place at mealtimes and, because of a quirk of the coal porter, seven bucketfuls of coal every day. He also gets his own (superheated) office, and no one chases him much. Despite the fact that he is the least senior member of the UU faculty he is also, now, Chair of Experimental Serendipity, Reader in Slood Dynamics, Fretwork Teacher, Chair for the Public Misunderstanding of Magic, Professor of Virtual Anthropology and Lecturer in Approximate Accuracy. He has in fact accumulated all those jobs that require absolutely nothing more than that something in theory is doing them.



Briggs, Stephen. Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion . . . So Far
 

MrsWizzard

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I think Rincewind is so interesting because he never learns any impactful lesson, but he's still such a relatable character. He's got these flashes of deeper character that could almost be missed beneath the rest of the story, and these little flashes always made me empathize with him more.

There's a line in CoM where Rincewind is described as liking Twoflower because "disliking him would be like kicking a puppy." It's hinted they have more interactions off-screen that further their friendship, like the parallel dimension in which their Roundworld counterparts become friends at an airport and sit together on the plane. Throughout TLF Twoflower's revealed to have more insight into Rincewind than expected from his naive character, quietly pointing out to other characters that he knows Rincewind is no good at magic and getting fed up with Rincewind toward the end by cutting off a sarcastic remark before Rincewind can make it. All throughout they have dialogue and camaraderie, to the point that Rincewind actually plans for Twoflower to stay at UU at the end because in Rincewind's mind, of course Twoflower would be sticking around, making his disappointment all the more palpable when Twoflower reveals he's going home. I teared up at that scene as a kid and I do it now whenever I re-read it. His care for Twoflower carries across the series, shown when he begins reminiscing about Twoflower in IT long before the two are reunited, showing Twoflower left more of an impact on Rincewind beyond being the naive tourist.

His interactions with the Librarian show this side of his character, too. At the end of Sourcery, the Librarian is the one grieving over Rincewind disappearing into the Dungeon Dimensions, holding onto his hat until IT, and jumping at the chance of him being brought back. Sourcery shows their friendship and hints more at Rincewind's past as a library assistant through Rincewind understanding the Librarian, showing their was development between LF and Sourcery. I find this friendship more meaningful because we've seen how the librarian treats intruders in the library, yet he formed this bond with Rincewind, despite the fact that Rincewind being guilty of that is the major plot point for the first two books. Moreover, Rincewind is the only one on the staff who even knows the Librarian's name. Not only is Rincewind close with him, he's likely the closest to the librarian in the entire city.

I argue Rincewind has more passion than most other characters. He doesn't just like Ankh-Morpork, he loves Ankh-Morpork. He avoids danger and heroism to the extreme except when it involves going home. The only reason he enters the traveling shop in LF is because it can get him back to Ankh. He faces Coin with a brick in a sock in Sourcery just to defend his home. In IT, he was perfectly happy on the island at the beginning, but cries with joy at being back in Ankh, eating Dibbler's sausages and embracing a beating from the Thieves Guild. He identifies so intensely as a wizzard and citizen of Ankh that he agrees (albeit under duress) to a world-saving adventure in the Agatean Empire just to be allowed to hold the title and live in UU. He's a survivalist in that he'll adapt to wherever he ends up (the island in IT, Fourecks in TLC), but when the idea of returning to Ankh presents itself, he's reluctant, terrified, and begrudging, but ultimately willing.

An aspect of Rincewind's character that goes overlooked is his fascination with technology and "science" as it's present in the Disc. He first shows this in CoM with the iconograph. After using it, the book describes him as "taking every opportunity to operate the device," contemplating how it works, "freezing light particles" to capture an image. Later he talks about "harnessing the lightning" and bemoans the shortcomings of magic, thinking there must be something more practical, like science and mechanics. Considering the industrial revolution of Discworld didn't begin until several books later with MP, he not only demonstrates a fascination with new technologies, it puts him ahead of his time. His affinity for technology appears again in IT when he discovers the terracotta warriors. He immediately takes to controlling them, figuring out how they work almost instantly, and immediately begins applying it, even if only to make an entire army flip the bird. It's to a lesser extent, but even in TLC there's a scene where he gets thrown out of a meeting room because he keeps playing with the bullroarer he'd just found. After using it outside, he finds he can use it to make it rain. In his final appearance in Raising Steam, while he's hiding under the seat of the train, he still got on it, and in those footnotes he does admit to its practical uses. It's a small glimpse of Rincewind, but entirely consistent with his character in more ways than one.

Finally, Rincewind always gets the reputation as a failed wizzard. In actuality, he's a fantastic wizzard. In several instances in CoM he goes on about magic theory, how spellcasting works, and magic's history. He explains exactly how spells are cast and what their faults are. He knows the ins and outs of magic in incredible detail. He's an expert on wizzardy in every sense but the practical. He knows magic, he just can't perform it.

It's true Rincewind doesn't go through drastic character changes like Vimes and Granny Weatherwax, but the character he does have is still an enjoyable and relatable one. He's often remembered for his most prominent traits of being a snarky coward and the epitome of the reluctant hero trope. But he has so much more to his personality that slips through the lines and is easily missed. I love Rincewind because each of his books is a balance of slapstick, sarcastic humor, and brief, shining moments of pure humanity that get right to me every time. There is at least one point in every Rincewind novel that makes me cry for him, not out of sympathy, but empathy.
 

Tonyblack

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#18
Nice summary! Yes, I always found the scene where Twoflower tells Rincewind he is going home, to be a touching one. It is beautifully written as there has developed a deep friendship, even if Rincewind probably wouldn't admit it. And his love for his city, with all its flaws is right up there with Vimes and Vetinari.
 

RathDarkblade

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#19
Hmmm ... it's strange. I always thought that Rincewind liked UU so much was because it was so incredibly boring (at least, he says so - and repeatedly). Compared to many of the other places that Rincewind has been, UU indeed offers no possibilities for Rincewind to get his brains smashed in or to see his bowels on the end of someone's spear.

It's strange, then, that some of the greatest dangers that Rincewind had faced actually happened at UU (e.g. at the end of TLF or Sourcery), or because of UU (e.g. the wizards trying to find him in TLF, or the various adventures that Ridcully sends him on).

It's only after Ridcully becomes head of UU that things stop going completely pear-shaped for the wizards (but not, alas, for the Wizzard). Of course, the staff of UU still deal with plenty of strange things - Music with Rocks In, the subplot of Reaper Man, the subplot of TLC etc. - but at least they're not as apocalyptic as the events of TLF and Sourcery. For the first time, the wizards stop operating on the basis of "Dead Man's Pointy Boots" (probably because Ridcully is the Man, and he likes being in his boots).

Anyway, don't mind me ... just thinking out loud. :)
 

MrsWizzard

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#20
He absolutely loves UU for the boredom, and look how much danger he'll face to get it! :p

I wanted to talk more about why I defend Rincewind so darn hard (I'm rather fond of him, in case no one could tell ;)), but the character limit stopped me at six thousand. (Leave it to the English teacher to be long winded.)
 

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